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The huge price increases have occurred even though newer drugs have been introduced, something that normally stabilizes or lowers the cost of older drugs, Oregon State University researchers noted.
"The issue of astronomical drug costs, especially for newer drugs or rare conditions, is more and more common," study author Daniel Hartung, an associate professor at the university's College of Pharmacy, said in an Oregon State release.
Currently, there are no MS drugs in the United States with a list price below $50,000 a year, which is two to three times higher than in Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom, the researchers added.
The cost of MS drugs in the United States is rising five to seven times faster than the normal rate of drug inflation, according to the study published April 24 in the journal Neurology.
MS is a disabling disease in which the immune system destroys the protective covering of nerves.
First-generation MS drugs became available in the 1990s at prices ranging from $8,000 to $10,000 a year, the study found. But the prices of those drugs did not go down or stay steady after newer drugs became available, which is what typically occurs. Instead, the costs of those older drugs soared. For example, one that originally cost $8,700 a year now costs $62,400 a year, the researchers said.
The cause of the massive price increases for the older drugs is unexplained and "alarming," they added.
"The simplest explanation is that pharmaceutical companies raise prices of new and old MS disease-modifying therapies in the United States to increase profits, and our health care system puts no limits on these increases," the study authors wrote.
The problem is not limited to MS drugs, the researchers noted.
"There are often several drugs in a class available to treat a disease or condition, and 'Economics 101' would suggest that competition should lower prices," Hartung said. "In the pharmaceutical industry, we often don't see that. Many professionals now believe that it's time to push back, to say 'Enough is enough.'"
-- Robert Preidt
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